2005 creative writing contest winner—prose

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  • REFLECTIONS

    2005 Creative Writing Contest WinnerProse

    SKIN

    Doncha think its real cool, Grandpa? All my friends have one.

    Adjusting his spectacles, Krieger bent over, gazed intently a few seconds at the tiny pink rose on her

    back, then clucked approvingly. Long ago, he learned not to display shock or anger to children, or his

    patients.

    Did it hurt, Jodi? Eyebrows raised, smiling.

    Nope, she chirped proudly.

    It seemed a bizarre fashion; using ones body as a garishly ornamental billboard. He gave it no

    further thought until well after his daughters family had returned to Ohio . . . It had been 6 months

    since Sarahs death. Every day he recalled her handsome face, sweet smile, the happiness of their long

    life together. Sarah had been afraid of dying. Even talking of it. She refused to accompany him to

    Krumholz the lawyer, to draw up a will. There was no convincing her. But . . . the circumstances of her

    death still haunted him. She had been just 75. Although pale and weak, she had refused to go to the

    hospital until the bleeding became uncontrollable. The hematologist said she had an interesting dis-

    ease. Even in medical school Krieger knew the label interesting invariably meant devastating and

    incurable. I should have screamed enough is enoughgenug. he often thought. It would have spared

    her medicines last rites: the foredoomed chest-poundings, the poisonous resurrection cocktails. Such

    suffering. Poor Sarah. The rare form of blood cancer, the fevers, the hemorrhaging, the overwhelming

    infections. Comatose on a respirator for 4 weeks . . . until the end. It had been inhumane to prolong her

    dying.

    He felt responsible, and resolved not to let that happen to him.

    Shortly after her burial he obtained 2 bottles of Seconal, putting them behind a book on the shelf.

    The children and grandchildren were taken care of in the will, the burial plot and funeral paid for in

    advance. He was ready. He had no religious misgivings about ending his life, nor illusions about the

    existence of an afterlife. He was in fairly good health for a man of 82; failing eyesight, aching hips and

    knees, and barely adequate urinary plumbing and bowels. Not frightened of dying, there were times

    after her funeral it seemed most welcome, he wanted it to be on his own terms; swift and painlessif at

    all possible. In his lifetime, he must have written natural causes on hundreds of death certificates.

    Krieger felt he had the right to determine the time and manner of his death. Pneumonia, once referred

    to by his professors as the old mans friend no longer provided a quick exit. When the inevitable

    occurred, an illness he knew would end in his physical or mental decrepitude, he planned to take the

    pills, peacefully go to sleep, and join her.

    The second Thursday of eachmonth he visited Jake. On the long bus ride Krieger always reflected on

    their long friendship. My best friend since high school, oh how I envied him. Little Jakie, the top student

    at Boston Latin helping me with my homework, introducing his cousin Sarah to me one summer. Just

    imagine . . . years later he became Professor Jacob Levov of MIT, the brilliant astrophysicist once rumored

    to be on Stockholms short list. Didnt they even name an equation after him? Sarah was always un-

    successfully introducing him to eligible lady friends. But, resolutely a bachelor, he was married to his

    research. When he had a stroke I didnt know about it for weeks. For the past 2 years, poor Jake had been

    wrapped in diapers, strapped to a wheelchair in front of a TV in a nursing home dayroom. The foul odors,

    waxy skin, swollen legs. Id read the newspaper to him, hold his cold, immobile hand. Jakes mute un-

    blinking face was horrifying. Was this life? I pondered. No, he was one of themany living dead. Not for me.

    An hour was all I could bear. On the bus home I always sat in the back wiping away the tears . . .

    It was after his recent visit to Jake that he remembered little Jodi, and made his decision.

    One wintery afternoon he rode the subway downtown, getting off in the Combat Zone, an area of

    strip joints, porno shops, tattoo, and body-piercing parlors. The CHAMELEONs neon-lit window

    673

  • beckoned, proclaiming Body ArtCustom Tattooing. Disposable NeedlesPublic Health Dept. ap-

    proved.

    Whatll you have, Pops? the young Asian woman said. He must have looked uncertain.

    Before you make up your mind, let me show you around. Youll get an idea of my beautiful work.

    The small shop had psychedelic posters and photos of necks, backs, chests, and buttocks deco-

    rated with scorpions, cobras, cupids, Satanic symbols, and religious images covering the walls like a

    stamp album. The blasting rock music made it difficult for him to speak.

    He shook his head, and wrote what he wanted on a piece of paper.

    Thats all? No kidding? That big? Do you want me to doll it up a bit, some U.S. flags, a few coiled

    snakes? I can do calligraphy or Olde English script, but itll take longer and cost more. How about some

    pretty colors instead of just black?

    He shook his head.

    Where do you want it?

    He opened his shirt and pointed.

    OK, have a seat, motioning to the worktable near the front window, its plenty warm in here. Ill

    have to shave your chest clean.

    She lathered the area with green soap and carefully maneuvered the Bic razor.

    Usually, it doesnt grow back, she said reassuringly.

    Soon an admiring crowd formed: bearded bikers in leather, nose-ringed punks with green and

    fuschia hair, and 3 scruffy derelicts who had wandered in.

    Youre the oldest dude Ive ever put my artistry on, she said. The onlookers nodded. She placed

    the letter stencils on the table and began. The electric hum of the tattooing gun could barely be heard.

    The group winced when he winced.

    Does it hurt, Pops? Should I stop for a moment? she whispered, letting up on the foot pedal. Eyes

    shut, he shook his head.

    An hour went by.

    There, how do you like it, Pops? she said, wiping him dry, offering a mirror.

    He stared at the reflection. D.N.R. in 3 in high capitals. The abbreviation would suffice, he thought.

    If ever Im taken to a hospital, the aggressive young doctors would know what that meant. Let me be!

    Are those your initials?

    The joking stopped when he explained what the letters signified to the medical profession.

    No ##! You dont mean it, do ya? Why ya doin that?I have my reasons. Im a physician. I know what Im doing.

    Everyone was silent, staring in disbelief. He got up, dressed, wrote a check, and walked out.

    It was becoming dark. Few were on the street as Krieger shuffled to the station.

    There, done. I dont owe them an explanation, he grumbled. Whyn the hell should I tell them

    about Sarah and Jake? Its none of their goddamn business.

    He knew Sarah or the family would never have understood. Nobody would, but that didnt matter.

    LESLIE G. COHEN, MD

    11 Robeson Street, Jamaica Plain, Mass, USA.

    lgcohen33@hotmail.com

    FROM FINAL JUDGE JACK COULEHAN

    I chose Skin to be the winner in prose narrative, not so much because Im a grandpa myself, but

    because of the storys deep humanity and heroism. Anton Chekhov wrote that the good playwright, who

    casually leaves a pistol lying around the stage in the first act, should wow the audience in the third act

    by using that pistol to bring on the plays climax. So, too, with Skin. This is a story of loss and com-

    passion, but in the end, when the pistol goes off, at some level everyone in the audience cheers.

    674 JGIMSkin

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